Karen squirmed in her seat, fidgeting forcefully to try and get up out of the plantation and dampness that had welded her in place. Carl was out there somewhere, alone in this frightful place. What had gone wrong? Had she really killed herself? She considered herself more emotionally stable than this presented intelligence would suggest. Perhaps this was all a trick created by a sadistic entity with which she had become familiar with in the train she was now abandoned in. Sure people crowded around her, but none really there. They were like empty shells, hollow skins. Dolls.
Karen felt subtle cracking, like she was both sculpture and sculptress, destroying her art. Some time passed and she felt herself become loose. This gave her more determination than ever and soon she was out.
Attempting to stand, her muscles tore and her bones cracked. She let out a brief but sharp moan and sat once more. She tried again and again, lifting herself from not only her chair but the burden of time she had received in this hell hole she knew nothing about. When she found herself able to walk; with the help of the tattered and scorched furniture she was accustomed with, she moved to the exit.
Locked. She would present herself to the driver. And so she fumbled, carriage to carriage, until she reached the head of the train - not before she said goodbye to Frank's lifeless, hanging corpse.
"Where you thin' you're goin' Miss?" The driver demanded. His exposed bones gleamed in the blackness of the cabin; they were naked besides a withered operator's cap on his skull.
"I'm leaving. I need to find my son." Karen replied. She
focused on all the buttons and levers that covered the room; one
must open the doors, however the buttons were too vast and
complicated for her to understand. The driver's glare was
impervious, amused at Karen's dedication to her newly found
"Lookin' lye that? You'll only scare him."
Karen hadn't thought about that. Her appearance had severely suffered from her supposed years spent on the train, her figure skinny, her colour pale and ill looking, her hair thin and dead. Not to mention her moulded rotten clothes. She made a mental note that she would have do something about that before finding Carl.
"Just let me out. Please." Karen was surprised when the
skeleton pushed his finger down onto a button and the doors swung
open. She expressed sincere gratitude and thanked him.
"Don' mention it. It ain' every day I see wun a you lost souls roamin' round the train demandin' me to let you out. It's refreshin'. Gud look in findin' ya son."
She thanked him again and stepped out of her tomb. The train zoomed off on its invisible track, vanishing at rapid speed through a red-brick wall. She was in a small rural village that appeared isolated from the normal world.
The air outside was slightly cooler and more humid than the death train, although it was still uncomfortably hot. She removed her green torn jacket and tossed it to the ground. Surveying the area she spotted a huge neon sign, high in the sky like a UFO, Stacie's Diner. The name rang familiar in Karen's head, the place made a wicked Steak and Kidney Pie with Chips. It was also the place where Karen had supposedly overdosed. She questioned the tragic events of her life. She had been told she had died and yet here she was, roaming around, pretty much alive. Was this an illusion? Or had she never died to begin with?
She stiffly limped to the check-in desk, where a
tatty-looking woman played with her iPod; Karen could hear
Katy Perry's Roar playing loudly through the pink
overhead earphones. She waited impatiently while leaning on the
oak desk - not only in hope to attract attention, but also as
support for her struggling legs. "Excuse me?"
"And you're gonna hear me rooaarr," the girl murmured.
"Excuse me?" Karen repeated, agitated. The girl eventually lifted her chubby face; she appeared irritated, as if Karen had rudely distracted her.
"Wow, you look like shit. You need a room? Twelve quid a night."
Karen padded her clothes, of course she had no money; it wasn't needed in the afterworld. "I...I actually just left something in the room I was staying in, can I quickly go get it?" She pleaded. The girl was not fooled, Karen sounded desperate and looked awful.
"No cash. No room." Without delay the girl placed her earphones back on and bowed her head toward her iPod.
Karen turned to leave, bereft of hope, when a man she had previously been oblivious of appeared behind iPod Girl. He wore a cheap suit and smelled of excess aftershave and tobacco, lean build, roughly shaved. "She can stay in my room, if she likes," propositioned the man. Karen was hesitant, but really had no other choice. She gave a silent nod, and the man grinned with delight. "It's a date!"
They didn't talk much as she followed him like an obedient dog to his room, but she politely replied to his casual small talk. Upon arriving, room 17, she heard a voice whispering in her ear. Mommy, can I sleep with you? Mommy, where's daddy? The memories stuck vividly in her mind, like they happened yesterday, not fifteen years ago. The room inside appeared as cheap as the man that occupied it; stale floorboards, outdated and flaked lime wallpaper, a rusted sink and worn bed and sofa. The man, who told Karen his name was Sam, slumped on to the bed and removed his shoes. "There's a shower in that room, why don't you go clean yourself up." It seemed like a requisition more so than a suggestion. He seemed disinterested in her and her peculiar appearance, and was now in the process of turning on the twenty inch 1997 Sony KV20V50 television. Karen couldn't help but feel suspicious of his intentions, but she really did need a shower. "Okay, thanks," she uttered softly, adding "I really appreciate your kindness," feigning sincerity.
The water was refreshing to her dry skin. Its temperature was ice cold, no doubt the hotel couldn't afford heated water, but she didn't mind, she had been roasting on the train for a good chunk of her life. The paranoia, however, was not refreshing. She felt like she was being watched. She knew it was all in her head, the door was locked and there were no windows. But still she shielded her breasts and between her legs until she was finished. Occasionally she inspected the bathroom; the light, the plastic shower head, the vent. She had read stories about some pervert installing secret cameras in their hotels to enjoy their residents' vulnerability.
Karen was unfamiliar with her body, as if it wasn't hers at all. She finished as fast as she could, not being able to bear it. She still felt unclean. She glared at her ruined clothes that lay on the floor, she couldn't possibly put them back on. She saw the dressing gown that hung like a ghost on the tiled wall. How convenient for the suited man.
She sat on the bath for a moment, shivering, trying to pass the time she would have to endure with this unknown stranger. A high pitched screaming began without warning from within the bath, it was Carl. The volume was deafening. "Carl?!" she shouted, peering into the tub. A hallucination, of course the bath was empty. She ran out of the room and slammed it shut behind her.
The man rushed over to her, shocked and curious. "What's
wrong? Are you okay?"
She felt embarrassed that she had shown such weakness in front of the guy. "Yes. Sorry. I'm fine." The man let her sleep on the bed that night. He slept on the floor with a spare quilt and pillow.
The next day Karen awoke to the fresh smell of scrambled egg and sausages. Sam had told her that he had to go, business, and she was free to help herself to anything in the fridge. He told her that he was staying at the hotel for three more days, and she was welcome to stay until then. She felt extremely guilty that she had thought so lowly of him the previous night. In the company of the sunlight he shone, he was friendly, kind, and very gentle.
She took him up on his offer, and ate most of the fridge's contents while he was gone. After she had satisfied her stomach, she reached into one of the hotel drawers and pulled out an A4 notepad. On it in bold letters Karen wrote FIND CARL, underneath she wrote anything she could remember that may help this mission, phone numbers of relatives, post codes etc. She made a note that no one must find out who she was; she didn't need the confusion and endless interrogations that it would bring about. She would have to create a fake identity.
When Sam returned in the night, they played a game of cards
and shared a bottle of Santa Rita. "So what's your story Jess?"
Sam asked, swigging the contents of his glass and then refilling
it. In their early days of marriage, before Frank became
aggressive and violent, he and Karen had a cat named Jess, it
seemed like as good a name as any for her new fake
"No story really. I lost my job a while back, couldn't pay the bills, I've been living on the streets ever since." Karen lied. Sam didn't bother delving any deeper, sensing Karen's withdrawal on the topic. "Damn, you are way too good at this. Maybe I should give you my money so we can go to the casino and get rich." Sam smiled. Karen laughed as she swiped the pile of poker chips towards her.
On their last day together, Karen went shopping for clothes with the money he had generously given her. She giggled to herself as she recalled her first impression of him, how she got him so wrong. He had many idiosyncrasies; his constant need to fit in, hide into society, the way he picked up homeless strangers in cheap hotels. But he was nice, and she could see in another life how they could have been good friends. He could be a significant help in finding Carl.
She lay relaxed on the bed, staring at the cracked cream
ceiling. The night lamp was on, Sam beside her reading some
detective novel. (She invited him to sleep beside her yesterday,
he was very conscientious about giving her space, and he slept
facing away from her, no problem). After half an hour passed he
turned the lamp off and wished her a good night, to which she
returned. He was out in just a few minutes, and Karen lay awake
facing him, smiling.
Karen's screams were muffled in the straw bag her head had been covered with. She could hear Carl crying in front, she could feel his warm breath on her face. Her hands were tightly bound behind her back, and several strange hands pushed hard on her shoulders, preventing her from standing. A loud thud was heard, a warm liquid spraying Karen's front. A hard round object dropped to the floor and hit Karen's knee. "No!" She yelped, breathing rapidly. The bag was pulled from her head, and her eyes streamed like waterfalls as she saw Carl's decapitated head silent on the wooden boards. Blood spurted like a geyser from his stump neck.
Her eyes thrust open, she blinked rapidly, her terrified demeanour following her into waking life, as well as the tears. The room struck Karen as horrifically familiar. How had she not noticed it before? This was the room, the room of death and dismay she died in. Before she could consider what that meant, a heavy object rolled on top of her. "Sam, get off, you're hurting me." Sam didn't move. "Sam?" This time he did. He lifted his upper body, leaving his legs to pin Karen into place. Karen shrieked, "Sam, this isn't funny, get off!" Sam leaned over her sweating, suffocating body and fiddled his hand into a draw, pulling out a large kitchen knife. Karen shrieked. "Oh God. Please, no." She begged again and again. Sam wasn't listening. He placed the knife toward her cheek, watching her squirm. Then he raised it, bent his face down so it was almost touching her own, and sliced the blade across her throat. No. Not her throat, his throat. Before she understood what had happened, a tsunami of blood gushed from his butchered neck, drenching her. She flapped her arms about, struggled to release herself from Sam's limp body. Eventually she managed to roll him off, his corpse smacking the floor. She jumped blindly onto the wooden floorboards, blood in her eyes. She vomited, a blend of steak and kidney pie and Sam's blood flooding out. She manically rubbed her eyes with her sticky red hands, her blindness no better off, and crawled to the bathroom through visual memory alone, pushing herself up to the sink, slipping and sliding in the puddles she'd created.
Karen washed her face frantically, painfully so. She looked in the dirty cracked mirror, every spec of blood requiring another forceful scrub. Inside the mirror was a survivor of a massacre - that involved chainsaws - wearing a perpetual blood mask. She ripped her clothes apart from her body like it was a ticking time bomb and jumped in to the shower, the icy cold water stinging her body. She dropped onto the plastic square metre bottom and lay there in the fetal position, sobbing.
The plastic fell, and her body collapsed down into a long dark abyss. She landed sitting upright in her vined train seat. The black ghost with ruby eyes floated before her. "How does it feel to be abandoned? Not nice, is it?" he berated sanctimoniously before strapping her arms into the chair. She was relieved. Thank God the hotel and Sam were just an illusion after all.
Then a deep loud laughing, and when she awoke she was lying down on a metal floor, clad in grey overalls, inside a claustrophobic cube of metal.